The Blessings of a Long Battle, Part 3

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From Jonathan Coe’s website at http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you gracious brother! (I’m so glad you are my friend.)

As I look over the last two posts on the blessings of a long battle, I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about the importance of not being ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (II Corinthians 2:11). After reading those posts, I realized a word of balance was needed in discussing the relationship of formulaic Christianity to spiritual practices lest the devil distort the truth to his advantage.

Both posts encouraged the believer to move beyond canned formulas to a restful trust in and radical dependence on Christ. A common formula for someone who finds themselves in a protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or some thorn in the flesh is “Read the Bible, pray, and attend church and that will solve your problem.”

These are wonderful spiritual practices but the problem is that people begin to trust in the formula more than the Person who can heal their inner leper. The formula can become a religious idol.

The biblical view of spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, fellowship, fasting, meditation, and the sacraments) is that they are both avenues of renewal and bridges to intimacy with the Living God. They are sacramental; they are a means of grace.

Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. One of the primary ways that the branches stay connected to the Vine is through spiritual practices. That is how we abide in him and apart from abiding in him, we can do nothing.

This next part is crucial, and, if you only get one thing out of this post, this is it: when the believer gets frustrated enough to forsake impotent formulas, the devil’s primary agenda then is to get that person to forsake authentic, life–giving spiritual practices too.

That’s why the Christian should ask for wisdom every day so that he or she can tell the difference between the two. Satan is more than happy to allow us to forsake the false as long as we don’t replace it with the real.

It’s part of the human condition that, in our anger and frustration, we often throw out the wheat with the chaff. And a person who is involved in a long, difficult battle is going to need all the grace–filled spiritual practices they have time for!

I’m convinced that when the devil sees a believer, who is involved in a long battle, leave anemic formulas and begin to become engaged in regular, soul–nourishing spiritual practices, it fills him with uncontrollable rage. He will come to that Christian with many false voices in an effort to separate the branch from the Vine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • “ You tried this religious stuff before and you still have the same addiction/weakness/problem. What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
  • “If you have your quiet time with God in the morning when you don’t feel like it, you’re being a phony. You should only do it when you feel like it.”
  • “If your quiet time with God becomes a regular thing, it will become a dead religious ritual. You don’t want to become legalistic. Keep things spontaneous. Just do it when your heart moves you to do it.”
  • “Regular spiritual practices aren’t the real you. You can find God in every day life without them in a way that fits your personality.”
  • “You’re a person of action not of contemplation. You get things done without all this navel–gazing and spiritual stuff.”

These are just a few plays out of the devil’s playbook. May God give us the discernment to recognize his voice and the wisdom to reject his counsel.

Reposted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you Jonathan for your great teaching.

When Rags Became Grace

“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.” 10Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”

11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.”

Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV

At the very last, there was just one remaining.  A single man, Ebedmelech.  He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king.  The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult.  In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah.  They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern.  They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.

The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city.  Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah.  He just lets it happen without a good reason.  The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern.  Without food, he will soon starve.  In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’

But there is one, he is a wild card.  And no man would have guessed it.  Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history.  Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues.  This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene.  He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, a nobody.

But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession.  He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth.  He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.

Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet.  Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags.  They shout down to Jeremiah.  The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.

It’s interesting, but the rags are the most interesting. 

They are really an extra touch, not a necessity.  The rags become essentially, a form of grace.  They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud.  Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did.  There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable.  In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.

Our illnesses– physical or mental, have moved us to a lonely place on the edge. 

We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace.  Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes.  It would’ve been more difficult, granted.  But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness.  And I am certain it did not pass by without notice.  Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.

We can gather up much from what has been written.  We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations.  But our kindness and concern can make the difference.  Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.  

So be an  Ebedmelech,—  an outcast perhaps– but in a position of kindness.

 

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Forgiven First

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This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.

But this is what I read and thought.

“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2, NLT

Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.

The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.

The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.

Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?

The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.

Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?

Man has two basic needs.

  • One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
  • Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.

There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.

What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.

“He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”

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“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  

Henry Ward Beecher

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Drowning in Despair

 

despair (2)“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that gives me the most concern.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we must come to the interesting place when our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and He is Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic. But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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The Giant Mocks Us

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616

From 1 Samuel 17

Young David stood and looked at Goliath face-to-face.  Physically there was hardly a comparison.  Goliath was almost 10 feet tall, a warrior since birth, armed to the teeth, we read of his armor–he was like a human tank.  David was nothing,  a pesky boy, nothing more.  Goliath preened and strutted into the field of battle, and David was stepping up for his first try.

Goliath begins to blaspheme.  He boasts and mocks.  In his mind he is superior.  His arrogance knows no bounds.  The center of the universe is the Philistine army, and he is their champion.  Nothing can compare, the glory is his.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground”.

1 Sam. 17:48

 Goliath is a ‘human wood chipper.’  Everyone who has faced him has been destroyed.  There have been no survivors to speak of. But I find David to be powerfully exceptional.  His reaction to the ‘human mountain’ of Goliath was to run directly at him.  This is an astonishing faith.

Many of us face a giant called “despair”.

He has marched out on the field of battle confident of his ultimate triumph over us.  We have been tutored that there are enemies that can destroy us.  We’ve been indoctrinated to accept the inevitable slavery with a spirit of meekness.

The concept and milieu of going to war has not been something that didn’t get passed on to us.  The ‘enemy-giant’ of despair is real and brutal.  Our destruction is inevitable in his mind.  Despair believes he will destroy us.  Its just a matter of time.

So many believers, cowed and intimidated, surrender to the boastings of the giant Despair.  Hope, and faith are drained out of our being, and we become a empty spiritual shell.  The “warfare” dimension gets nullified, and soon irrelevant.  Despair reaches us and has the full intention of taking total control.

David ran to the battle.  He passed through the dark intimidation and influence to approach Goliath.  There was no passiveness or doubt to cloud his mind.  David took a spiritually aggressive position, he took on the confusion, and then ran directly at the giant Goliath.  His spirit was untouchable.

As believers, we struggle and David and Goliathpout.  We turn our hearts over to despair.  We become available to the enemies workings.  And the confidence we might have through faith is dissipated into doubt and confusion.  But the victory we have in Christ allows us the liberty, through the Blood of Him who defeats our own goliath of despair.

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Getting Past Your Past

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“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 

2 Corinthians 7:10, NLT

“You will have mercy on us again; 
 You will conquer our sins.
 You will throw away all our sins
 into the deepest part of the sea.”  

Micah 7:19, NCV

My own past has been particularly brutal and ugly.  I have done quite a few evil things in my lifetime which I am ashamed of.  Regret and sorrow over my sins frequently troubles me.  And I have to come back to seeing my sins covered by His blood. See https://brokenbelievers.com/my-story/

“Properly remembering our past sins with shame will deter us from repeating them and help us receive God’s saving grace.  When we recall our failures through the lens of Christ’s mercy, God produces in us ongoing repentance and deepening humility.” 

–Robert D. Jones

I have walked in self-hatred for many years.  I know all about loathing, fear and paranoia over my evilness.  These things have handicapped me spiritually, and hating yourself is a terrible way to live.  My struggles with guilt and regret have deepened my sense of despair and depression.  I find that I am ashamed of my shame.

I have included in this post the lyrics to Bob Bennett’s song “Lord of the Past”.  He is a gifted song writer, and an exceptional guitar player.  (I can’t find it on Youtube.com).  If you’re like me, you will find that you resonate with those who have been assaulted by the past. We now speak a common language, and we understand each other. 

LORD OF THE PAST
Bob Bennett
© 1989 Matters Of The Heart Music (ASCAP)  

Every harsh word spoken
Every promise ever broken to me
Total recall of data in the memory
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I’ve ever felt alone

  Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
(You can redeem these things so far away)
So now I’m asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of the Past
(Be the Lord of my Past)
Oh how I want you to
Be the Lord of the Past

All the chances I let slip by
All the dreams that I let die in vain
Afraid of failure and afraid of pain
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I’ve ever felt alone

Well I picked up all these pieces
And I built a strong deception
And I locked myself inside of it
For my own protection
And I sit alone inside myself
And curse my company
For this thing that has kept me alive for so long
Is now killing me.
And as sure as the sin rose this morning,
The man in the moon hides his face tonight.
And I lay myself down on my bed
And I pray this prayer inside my head

  Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
So now I’m asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of my Past
You can do anything
Be the Lord of the Past
I know that you can find a way
To heal every yesterday of my life
Be the Lord of the Past.

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On Being Tied to the Mast

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“The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace; all things are there.”

~St. Macarius

 OK, I admit it.  I am fully capable and fully able to do just about any sin or deceit.   It’s my dubious claim to fame.  I can easily think of a 1000 things that I could do rather than serving God.  It seems my name is ‘Legion.’ To add to this, I have a chorus of support that wants me to give up my faith.  Demons are really plotting to destroy me, while all along my flesh insists on being fed with ‘fresh sin’.  (And I wonder why I’m getting gray hair.)

Within each of us is the potential and capability of doing great evil.  Each of us is contested ground, with eternal decisions hanging in the balance.

My mental illness does not give me “a get-out-of-jail-free card.”  I am just as responsible as anyone else when it comes to choosing good vs. evil.  Somehow I’d like to think that since I am deeply flawed because of my depression, it can actually make it somewhat easier to admit the truth. Maybe? (Perhaps that’s about the only edge I get.)

In Greek mythology there were three beautiful, but dangerous bird-women called “Sirens.”  With their music and voice they seduced sailors to shipwreck on the rocks.  It was said that there was few or any could resist them. Since they had to be neutralized somehow; some would plug their ears with beeswax, while others tied themselves to the mast.

The Bible has promised us the Holy Spirit.  The very presence of God has reached out His hand to hold me against the onslaught of evil forces. He truly does hold me in place, and His Word gives me the things I need to defend myself. Yes, the darkness can be very strong–but is no match to what God can do for me. We live in a very difficult age.

The intensity of seduction has increased. Tying yourself to something is probably a good idea.

“Keep yourself pure.”

1 Timothy 5:22

When the voices begin to lure you, you had best be ready with a plan.  The spiritual mast we have before us is the person of Jesus Christ.  Call on Him and then tether yourself to His mast (the cross.)  He has all power and all love for you.  You can resist the darkness, you can!

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